Foul shots could be key

When you're producing 85 points per game, a missed free throw here or there doesn't mean so much. When you're producing 55 per game, though, each scoring opportunity is precious.

That's why foul shooting could be crucial when Tennessee hosts LSU tonight at 8 in Thompson-Boling Arena. Given how poorly the Vols shoot and how well the Tigers defend, this projects to be a very low-scoring game.

In fact, tonight's matchup could be a virtual replay of last year's meeting in Baton Rouge. The Vols shot just 31.7 percent from the field and an icy 26.7 percent (4 of 15) from the foul line in struggling to a 47-45 victory.

LSU held Tennessee to its lowest output of the Bruce Pearl era last year by forcing the Vols to play a deliberate tempo. No forcing will be required tonight, since the Big Orange has begun playing at the pace of a Tennessee Waltz in an effort to mask its defensive deficiencies. Instead of scoring points, UT's new emphasis is preventing points. The surest way to accomplish that is by establishing a slower tempo.

"To do that you have to make your free throws because it's going to be a lower-scoring game," Pearl said.

Tennessee did not make its free throws last Saturday against Memphis, going just 14 of 23 from the foul line. The result was a 54-52 home-floor loss. Still, Pearl is convinced that the slower tempo gave his team its best chance to win.

"Defense and rebounding do win championships, and we've put ourselves in position to win games with defense," he said. "If we make a free throw or two here, make a shot or two there, then the tone is different."

Because a slow tempo means fewer possessions for both teams, each possession is potentially decisive. As Pearl noted: "It does put more of a premium on shot selection and making the shots we're taking."

Shot selection will be especially important tonight, since LSU gives up very few easy baskets.

"LSU always plays good defense," Pearl said, "but there's probably more discipline in their game this year."

Tennessee used to wear down opponents with a blistering pace and superior depth. As noted earlier, the Vols no longer play a blistering pace. And, while they still have great depth, it isn't nearly as advantageous in a slow-paced game.

"The rotation might shrink because we're playing slower," Pearl conceded. "We're not wearing people out pressing them or wearing them out extending defensively. When you extend defensively, you make the opponent work harder than they've had to work before to get open. We can't guard that way, so fatigue is no longer a factor."

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